Tag Archives: Chelsea

Sorry, Conditions Are Too Good Today

RIDDLE FOR YOU: What goes up four times, but comes down only three times?

Here's a hint.

Here’s a hint.

ANSWER: The Winter Switchbacks, an evil little 5K on the trails near Chelsea, MI.

The writeup makes it seem like the worst race ever

Facebook promo - Winter Switchbacks 2016

Truth is, it’s mainly cross-country runners from the nearby high schools, and also a fair number of veteran trail runners. About 60 runners showed up, including kids as young as three (!) giving the bill hill a try. The race is put on by Eric and Mike, who coach the Chelsea teams.

That said, it is a “no frills” event. The entry fee is only $5.00, which goes to support the cross-country teams. There’s no bottled water, no porta-potties, no race bibs, and no finisher’s medals – you know, all the stuff you get for free at a $40.00 event.

The hardened veterans prepare for the grueling contest.

The hardened veterans prepare for the grueling contest.

The race is named for its singular feature, a climb up a very steep hill accomplished by weaving back and forth in a gradual climb, just like what trains do to get up steep inclines. The race begins at the low point of the loop, with the finish during the fourth loop at the top of the switchbacks.

Race day conditions were too good for Eric’s likings. Last year there was a fair amount of snow on the trails, and the roads were iced over and slippery. With practically no snow or ice this year and temps on the warmer side, the worst he could do was toss some large branches and logs across the trail (which he blamed on “localized winds”). I saw a few slips, but as far as I know there weren’t any “agony of defeat” spills.

Link to Agony of Defeat Video

If you have never seen the “Agony of Defeat” clip, you must. Click the image.

With all the hill running and ultras I’ve run in the last few years, I figured I was in good enough shape to run the inclines without too much trouble. Reality slapped me upside the head the minute I hit the switchbacks the first time. I’d run this race last year, but had forgotten how much of a lung-draining, life-sucking grind it is up that thing. I was able to recover on the downhills, though, and actually ran the final lap faster than the others.

Final climb!

Final climb!

What’s really annoying is that it doesn’t look all that hard when going uphill. You need to look down from the top and watch the runners behind you gasping and slogging their way along to really appreciate what you’ve just done.

"Ouch" prize winner!

The “Ouch” prize winner!

The winning time was just over 22 minutes, but glory is all you get for winning! There were only two awards: the first to the top on the first loop (but you have to finish to claim the prize) and the “Ouch” award for the person with the most spectacular fall.

My time of 25:56 was good for 8th place, and I admit to some self-pride about beating many of the cross-country runners. Coach Rob of PR Fitness may be “hill happy” when it comes to our group routes, but the payoff is undeniable. And I’m getting to the point now where I see hills as opportunities, not obstacles; in races I pass many people on them. So I think I’ll be back next year. Hopefully there will be subzero temperatures and whiteout conditions!

When this happens to a teenager, you know it's a good workout!

When this happens to a teenager, you know it’s a good workout!


P.S. I earned an award for running the entire way. I don’t put a whole lot of stuff on my car’s bumper, but this one went on for sure.

Bumper Sticker - I RAN the Switchbacks

P.P.S. There is a summer version of this race, and I was told that some runners can finish it in under 17 minutes. Now that is practically superhuman.

BONUS PHOTO: I didn’t see any puking mules, but there may have been some foxes puking from exhaustion! Check out the fox hunters!

Fox Hunters - 2

A Terrific Ride, and a Tribute

I had a terrific 80-mile bike ride on Saturday. That’s the good news. The bad news is how the ride came to be. David Relson, a co-worker and fellow cyclist, passed away suddenly at 65 on September 21.

David Relson

See, I told you.

David was an avid and enthusiastic cyclist. I lost count of the times I saw him ride to work. Now and then he’d stop by my office and we’d catch up on each other’s latest long ride or milestone reached, such as when he passed 1,000 miles for the year. Talking about riding was guaranteed to make him smile.

One of his rides in 2012 was especially meaningful to me. When the Dexter tornado destroyed the home of the high school cross-country coaches, I asked folks at work to consider running, walking, or cycling some “extra miles”, which were tied to pledges by others. David’s ride of over 30 miles gave the financial total a big boost.

Huron River, early Saturday morning.

Huron River, early Saturday morning.

But we never did ride together. Part of that, I think, was my preference to ride solo and partly, “there’s always time for that” despite knowing what eventually happens with that attitude. So I dedicated Saturday to a memorial ride. If I couldn’t ride with him, I could at least ride for him.

And what an incredible day. After some early morning fog the sky cleared, and the temperature hung around 70 degrees all afternoon. The trees were just beginning to show color, and the roads and trails were littered with windfall apples and walnuts. And I exchanged nods and waves with dozens of other cyclists.

The Dexter Cider Mill was jam-packed, as expected. Fortunately, I got my apples on the trail!

The Dexter Cider Mill was jam-packed, as expected. Fortunately, I got my apples on the trail!

Bike route map - David Relson Memorial Ride

My route included a stretch on the Lakelands Trail State Park (between B and C), lunch in Stockbridge (D) and a loop around Cavanaugh Lake (just to the right of E), which was a regular part of David’s rides with the Ann Arbor Bicycle Touring Society. And what memorial ride for a cyclist wouldn’t be complete without a stop at Zou-Zou’s cafe in Chelsea?

Zou-Zou's Cafe, Chelsea, Michigan.  Good coffee and great pastries.

A smooth ride, perfect day, good coffee, and a chocolate and custard-filled turnover. It takes so little to be happy!

From everything I can tell, and as his obituary confirms, David fully lived his life and knew how to balance his work and responsibilities with enjoying his family and his hobbies. That’s what I’d call a successful life. So long, buddy. Wherever you are, ride on.